For anyone that grew up during the 1980s and 1990s, there was a push by so many filmmakers and media moguls to make the next best anthology series. In the mid-1980s, CBS tried to revive The Twilight Zone and got The Grateful Dead to do the theme music with everyone from Wes Craven to John Milius directing scenes with Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Dame Helen Mirren before they hit it big to name a few. It didn’t last long.
On NBC, Steven Spielberg spearheaded Amazing Stories, which was supposed to be lighter tone stories of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Amazing Stories was supposed to be for viewers whose parents wouldn’t let them watch Twilight Zone. It only lasted two season itself despite Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Joe Dante, among others directing episodes. John Lithgow was even to win an Emmy for one of the episodes. Other actors, such as Milton Berle, and musician Adam Ant, appeared in episodes.
On HBO, there was The Hitchhiker, a far more darker anthology of tales told by the titular character. Then, they hit paydirt with the Tales from the Crypt series in the late 1980s. George A. Romero spearheaded Tales from the Darkside, which despite its title, often had pretty tame episodes. One memorable episode involves Eddie Bracken as an elderly man who dies but comes back and slowly decomposes unaware that he is dead. Christian Slater played his young grandson. And Brent Spiner was a reverend.
Then, there was Unsolved Mysteries that premiered during the winter of 1987. Robert Stack, wearing mostly an trenchcoat and delivering lines in his famous tone, was the host. Episodes dealt with true tales of the supernatural, the unexplained, UFOs, alien abductions, criminals and murderers on the run, and every now and again, a nice story about someone searching for a missing sibling or a parent that gave them up for adoption. There was even a segment featuring a young Matthew McConaughey as a young man who gets killed in front of his mother. And yes, he wasn’t wearing a shirt.
Unsolved Mysteries aired on NBC from 1987 to 1997 before it jumped to CBS and aired until 1999. The theme song was creepy and terrifying. But looking back, the epsiodes were poorly made with mostly unknown actors and local talent. But what if you had an athology series that was kinda in the vein of Unsolved detailing stories of the unexplained. Here’s the kicker. What if you make the audience guess which one is real and which one is made up?
And from this concept came Beyond Belief: Fact of Fiction? It was a pet project by Dick Clark and he appeared on TV shows to promote it. Some of the stories were based on the research conducted by Robert Tralins for his book Strange Events Beyond Human Understanding. A TV show Miracles and Other Wonders also used stories from this book. The series also based some of their segments on popular urban legends such as the motorist flashing his high beams because there is a killer in the backseat of a woman’s car. The motorist was played by Donald Gibb of Revenge of the Nerds and 1st & Ten fame.
James Brolin was the host for the first season which only consisted of six episodes. And while Brolin is a fine actor in his own right, his delivery wasn’t the best. I don’t know if the fact that he was coming off a divorce from actress Jan Smithers. Or the fact that he was more than likely dating Barbara Streisand at the time and felt the show was beneath him, but he just doesn’t work. I get the sense that his part was probably filmed in a day or two but he delivers the lines like he’s reading them off a teleprompter for the first time. However, he does show some good talent as he has to deliver two true stories himself that aren’t re-enacted. I’m suspecting this was an idea they thought up that was either too expensive to shoot or the other segments were too long in length.
For the second season, they bring in Jonathan Frakes. While he was a better host, for the first part of the second season, they give him a light blue buttoned-down shirt and a beige/tan sport coat. To top it off, his hair style was a little too school-boyish in contrast to his beard. He didn’t look like a TV host. He looked the cross betwen an early 1980s humanities professor at a liberal arts college in the Mid-Atlantic states and the pastor of a church after being promoted from youth minister.
They finally got his style better, basically dressing him mostly in black and restyling his hair that was reminiscient of his days as Cmdr. William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He went from the off-beat instructor you’re not sure you want your 18-year-old daughter be alone with to the handsome DILF you think your sister would like to meet. Frakes also displayed some humor and charm in the way he would set up every segment and then deliver a summary after we’d seen it.
Beyond Belief also employed the talents of the late Don LaFontaine (“In a world…”) for the first three season before Campbell Lane worked for the fourth and final season. While LaFontaine’s vocal abilities probably didn’t take more than an hour or two to record, they gave the series that eerie feeling. The casting was mostly a bunch of character movie actors and people famous for TV roles. Tony Dow, of Leave it to Beaver fame, appeared in one segment. There was also Rance Howard (father to Ron and Clint, grandfather to Bryce Dallas) in the first season. Angus Scrimm, The Tall Man from the Phantasm movies, was also in one segment. But most of the actors were the typical familiar faces of people you saw in a movie or TV show a few months back.
And like Tales from the Darkside and Amazing Stories, the stories had mostly a lighter tone to them, even if the segment focused on an armed robbery or a murder. The show became very popular but at the time of its run from 1997 to 2002, Fox aired it sporadically sometimes going many weeks between newer shows. It would later find more cult popularity status when he was aired on cable shows. I remember the defunct Chiller network would do marathon airings and I would sometimes watch five or six in a role on a lazy afternoon.
The show is also available on streaming services such as Peacock, Pluto TV, Crackle and Tubi. The show’s popularity isn’t limited to North America. It is very popular in Germany to the point that an episode was filmed in Germany and aired on German TV on Oct. 31, 2021. Frakes reportedly returned to film some scenes as host. However, I’ve not been able to find if it’s streaming online at this time.
While Jordan Peele tried to revive The Twilight Zone for the third time and Paramount-Plus has once again canceled it. I think anthologies are difficult mainly because it’s hard to get a bigger audience to tune in every week or so just a different cast and tone. Sometimes the allure just wears off. While Tales from the Crypt had A-listers stabbing people or being gutted, it started to wear thin after a few episodes and had its last season set in the United Kingdom with the actors from that area.
Since TV revivals are popular right now. They’re even talking of reviving Criminal Minds just a mere two freaking years after it was supposed to end. It’s been 20 years since Beyond Belief was seen by American audiences. It’d be nice to get a revival maybe on a streaming service. However, I hope they keep the same tone and style. I don’t want to see a bunch of episodes with a lot of profanity, graphic violence, nudity and sexual content. Despite having elements of the supernatural and horror, the show was kinda clean in its delivery. I think that’s one of the reasons audiences liked it.
What do you think? Please comment.